AI in bioacoustics research

This exercise is a part of Educator Guide: AI in Bioacoustics Research and Napping Penguins / View Guide
researcher attaches recording device to a tree
Carlos de Araujo installs a recording device in a South American forest. He and colleagues hope to pluck the song of rare birds out of the forest sounds the device picks up. Ben Phalan/Parque das Aves

Directions for teachers

Have students read the Science News article “This bird hasn’t been seen in 38 years. Its song may help track it down” and answer the first set of questions with a partner. As a class, answer the first three questions in the second set and then ask each student to individually answer the fourth question. Group students by the animal or environmental topic they chose in the fourth question and have them discuss their answers as a group and then share with the class.

Directions for students

Read the Science News article “This bird hasn’t been seen in 38 years. Its song may help track it down” and answer the questions as directed by your teacher.

Listening to the environment

1. Based on your understanding from the article, define bioacoustics.

Bioacoustics is an area of research focused on how living things make, use, or are affected by sound. Studies in bioacoustics often record sounds to learn about animals or environments.

2. Explain how the study referenced in the article is an example of bioacoustics.

The study in the article uses recorded bird calls and soundscape recordings to investigate whether certain species of birds still exist in the environment.

3. Name another use of bioacoustics referenced in the article. Find an article in the Science News or Science News Explores archives that gives another example of bioacoustics.

The article also references the recording of dolphin communication patterns. Another example of bioacoustics is in the Science News Explores article “Toothed whales use their noses to whistle and click.

4. What’s an animal or environment that you would like to study using bioacoustics? What would bioacoustics help you learn about the animal’s behavior or the environment? Come up with a scientific question.

Student answers will vary.

AI assistance

1. What does AI stand for, and what does it do? Why do you think AI got the name that it did?

AI stands for artificial intelligence, which means the ability of a machine or computer program to perform complex tasks that require thinking or learning in humans, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision making and language translation. Because “artificial” means that something does not occur naturally and is instead created by humans, the phrase “artificial intelligence” probably refers to the ways that humans create to imitate intelligence using computers.

2. How did the scientists in the article use AI to help them answer their scientific question? Why was their scientific question particularly difficult to answer using common AI-bioacoustic methods?

Scientists in the study used AI to analyze their large data sets of soundscape recordings to try to identify the presence of three different bird species. Since song recordings of some of the bird species were rare, the scientists didn’t have enough raw data to feed into existing analysis tools. So they had to build a new tool. A human created a signal template to feed into the AI software. The software then analyzed the soundscape recordings to search for sounds similar to the signal template.

3. Based on what you read in the article, how was AI useful in helping to answer this scientific question? If used in a similar way, how could AI be useful in helping to answer your bioacoustics-related scientific question posed above?

AI helped scientists analyze many large data sets and look for specific patterns that could reveal the presence of a species. Student answers will vary based on their scientific question.

4. In addition to identifying trends in large data sets, AI can use data to predict outcomes or simulate complex scenarios. What is a research area where AI could be used in this way to benefit science research? With a partner, determine a specific research question that AI could help with. What role would AI tools play in investigating this research question? What challenges might researchers encounter when using AI in this way? What are some potential limitations of this use of AI tools?

Student answers will vary but they may mention potential research questions that relate to themes from articles in Science News, such as modeling climate change scenarios, predicting protein folding or filling in missing info in images. The challenges listed will also vary and may include a lack of quality input data.